Dustin Catrett, Environmental Compliance Specialist, and Sean Carroll, Line Technician I, remove a long-abandoned osprey nest atop a transmission pole in Lakeland.
If you’re driving on Interstate 4 through Lakeland, you may notice large nests rising from circular platforms on top of OUC powerline transmission structures on the south side of the highway. On some occasions, you may also see workers removing a nest while elevated in a utility bucket truck.
Such sightings sometimes lead motorists to call a state or federal wildlife agency to report suspected tampering with bald eagle nests, which are protected throughout the United States. But, in fact, OUC only removes inactive osprey nests from the four-foot-in-diameter fiber dishes atop transmission poles. Built with twigs, branches and dirt, osprey nests can come to weigh more than 100 pounds after they’ve been hardened by rainwater. In time, their weight can cause a dish platform to tilt or bend, with pieces of the nest falling on an energized line. This interaction could spark a fire on the pole or trigger an outage.
Starting with the highly visible Taft-to-Lakeland transmission corridor along I-4, OUC is conducting a biannual inactive osprey nest removal project this year as part of its Avian Protection Program (APP). OUC created the program in 2009 in an effort to comply with regulations set by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Ospreys are protected under the MBTA while eagles are shielded by both acts. Among the safeguards the APP entails are equipping transmission poles with nest dishes and covering distribution utility poles with avian safeguards to protect large birds from coming into contact with energized components. Birds of prey favor tall utility poles as nesting sites and perches for hunting.
Dustin Catrett checks a database showing eagle nests in the area.
Working with an OUC powerline crew, Dustin Catrett, Environmental Compliance Specialist, goes up in a boom lift to inspect nests atop transmission poles reaching 90 feet or higher. But before he does, Catrett checks the Eagle Nesting database maintained by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. It shows more than 2,600 blue dots covering Florida, with each dot representing a reported location of a bald eagle’s nest.
“We can’t create any disturbance within 1,600 feet of an eagle’s nest,” he says. “October 1 to May 15 is their nesting season, so we have to be especially careful during that time to keep an eye out for eagles while we’re inspecting osprey nests. Some eagle nests aren’t on the database.”
It’s easy to determine which species was – or is – using a nest. Ospreys eat only fish, so their nests bear evidence of a limited diet. Meanwhile, eagle nests reflect more diverse eating habits, with the remains of squirrels, rabbits, fish and other critters scattered about.
If a nest contains fish bones (inset photo) and fish scales but no eggs or fledglings and appears to be abandoned, it’s cleared from the dish. When a nest is removed, Catrett says ospreys almost immediately begin building a new home on a dish. If he can’t determine which species was or is using a nest, he leaves it alone.
“If there’s any doubt who it belongs to, it’s best we err on the side of caution,” he says.